Inside the New York Botanical Garden’s Frida Kahlo Exhibit
“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”
The quote, famously attributed to English author Frances Hodgson Burnett, could just have easily been from the pen of revered Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Known best for her turbulent marriage to muralist Diego Rivera and her vibrant, intense, evocative self-portraits, the iconic artist possessed a serious affinity to Mexico and the nature that surrounded her La Casa Azul home and studio in Mexico City—a home that has been recreated for the first time in Frida Kahlo: Art. Garden. Life., now on view at the New York Botanical Garden.
Kahlo lived out her life at La Casa Azul. The “Blue House” was where she was born, spent her years with Rivera, and died at age of 47. The pair filled the grounds with folk art, Mexican votive paintings, and pre-Hispanic artifacts. It was a meeting place for both political and artistic influencers as well as lovers. As Kahlo’s health declined, her work became more concentrated on still-life works of fruits and flowers within reach. Tony Award-winning scenic designer Scott Pask jetted to Mexico City in order to commit La Casa Azul—one of the greater influences of Kahlo’s work in her later years—to memory before recreating the home and grounds in New York.
For six months, visitors will be transported to Coyoacán as they wander alongside the cobalt-blue walls of Pask’s version of La Casa Azul inside the Haupt Conservatory and follow lava rock paths wending their way around patches of vibrant Mexican flora. There’s even a scale version of the stepped pyramid Kahlo and Rivera built, lined with potted desert plants found in her garden.
Also on view: an art exhibition of 14 original Kahlo paintings and illustrations—including lesser-known still-life works and portraits such as Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940) and Flower of Life (1944)—that spotlights the botanical imagery Kahlo often featured in her intense art.
To honor the event, James Beard Award-recognized restaurateur Stephen Starr's catering company, Stephen STARR Events, has launched a Mexican-inspired prix fixe menu at the newly opened Hudson Garden Grill along with a pop-up outdoor cantina and taco truck, where guests can feast on homemade margaritas, tostadas, pork-and-pineapple quesadillas, and other fare inspired by Kahlo’s personal recipes.
Kahlo’s life was defined by pain and passion. It is said that her final request before she died was to be moved into a room with a better view of her garden—one that, through November, lives on in the Bronx.